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Black Lives Matter

When you run a farm, it’s easy to forget the world at large. Any kind of upheaval—be it social, economic, or even environmental—can usually be ignored if it doesn’t directly bear on your crops, your crew, or your customers. Dan was farming upstate during 9/11, and it took hours if not days for the significance of the attack to sink in. In the era before cell phones, events in New York City and Washington seemed so far away, when measured against the daily needs of a farm.

There is no avoiding the events of 2020. When COVID-19 hit and the demand for local produce surged, we raced to plant more food, hire more staff, and meet the heightened pressures of the moment. We also received the homeschool baton. Like many others, we adapted, simply because we had to.

Two months later, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent street protests have required nothing of the farm, but they have arrested our sense of humanity. If there’s one characteristic that unites many of the farmers I know, it’s passion—passion to feed people, to heal the Earth, to engage in meaningful work. For myself, there is a direct line from my career as a farmer to a teenager’s passionate belief that everything in life should be fair. I distinctly remember learning, as an eighth grader, about the genocide of Native Americans and feeling both outrage and impotence. I remember wishing I could do something about it. That feeling remained with me right up to college, when I lived among idealists committed to changing the world, all in different ways. I realized I need not feel impotent, but that I must choose how to focus my passion. Farming, as it turned out, provided a simple, elegant answer.

In 2002, as a sophomore, I took an environmental science class about global warming (“climate change” as a phrase had yet to gain traction). The class addressed how the world’s poorest, most marginalized people stood to be the greatest victims. The projections were both terrifying and abstract. Several months later, I got my first farm job, as an apprentice and youth educator at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. I didn’t expect it to be transformative, but it was. I realized that if you want to touch everyone, there’s no better way than through farming, simply because everyone must eat. And with global warming shaping up to be the most pressing issue of our time, feeding people in a manner that didn’t degrade the Earth could be an act of social justice.

Almost two decades later, I am firmly rooted at Restoration Farm. Except during the winter months, the work is all-consuming, with little time for anything beyond farming. When the farm pulls my head down, I resist the urge to look up, because I’ve never lost faith that farming matters. All that said, this moment of social unrest is different. If you are passionate about justice, it’s hard to ignore what is happening in the streets. Farming has been my focus for the past twenty years, but I haven’t forgotten the many other causes that could have been. Even as we close in on the summer solstice and face the usual crescendo of fieldwork, I find my attention drawn away from the farm towards the streets, hopeful for change.

Like many business owners, I weigh my words carefully. I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and that business and politics don’t mix. But if there’s anything the events of the past three weeks have taught us, it’s how basic and fundamental the Black Lives Matter movement is. There is nothing political about the notion that black people should not be murdered, or that murdered people deserve justice. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, there is the growing recognition that if you believe black lives matter, you should say it; silence, we now understand, only gives cover to the to the racism embedded in our institutions and society.

So, as a white business owner serving mostly white customers, I add my voice to the collective cry that black lives matter! I recognize that the job of overcoming slavery’s legacy is far from complete, that policy brutality is an obvious scourge but that we must also address the insidious racism that we often take for granted—the redlining of our communities, the segregation of our schools, the economic and environmental inequity that makes minorities more vulnerable to coronavirus, climate change, and countless other threats. I recognize that until we live up to the ideal of equality for all, we cannot rest.

Gandhi called us to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” For Dan and myself, that means making our home in a minority neighborhood and sending our kids to the Amityville public schools, where whites comprise less than 5% of the student body. It also means plowing ahead at the farm. Climate change is still a threat, people still need to eat, and the weeds are still growing like mad. But while I keep my head down, I give my full support to all the peaceful protestors demanding justice—the societal expression of love—out in the streets. My heart is fully with you, and I believe your efforts will push our country and world toward a better place.

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